Footnotes in historical fiction

Massacres and wanton killings by Israel are a recurring theme in the Arab and Palestinian narrative. Deir Yassin, Ruach Shaked, Jenin, al-Dura, Sabra and Shatila (in which case the killing was done by Israel’s allies), and on and on. Now a graphic novel by Joe Sacco, “Footnotes in Gaza”  tells the story of another two incidents in which large numbers of Palestinian civilians were supposedly killed. In a very positive review in the NY Times, Patrick Cockburn wites,

The killings [allegedly — ed.] took place during the Suez crisis of 1956, when the Israeli Army swept into the Gaza Strip, the great majority of whose inhabitants were Palestinian refugees. According to figures from the United Nations, 275 Palestinians were killed in the town of Khan Younis at the southern end of the strip on Nov. 3, and 111 died in Rafah, a few miles away on the Egyptian border, during a Nov. 12 operation by Israeli troops. Israel insisted that the Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces were still facing armed resistance. The Palestinians said all resistance had ceased by then.

Sacco’s book will undoubtedly do much to further inflame anti-Zionist hatred. His research consisted of interviewing Palestinian “witnesses and survivors” in 2002-3. Although I can’t prove this without asking him, I’m almost certain that he did not talk to Israeli soldiers who were present. According to this review, he did not identify the Israeli units involved in the alleged massacres. Surely this information is available and would have led him to witnesses on the other side.

Why this is important is that Palestinians have made an industry out of lying about, exaggerating, and entirely faking atrocity stories.

So given this history, it should be clear that ‘eyewitness testimony’ by Palestinians or other Arabs needs to be taken with a truckload of salt. A real historian or investigative journalist must take all possible steps to collect evidence from both sides involved in highly controversial events. Otherwise the product is historical fiction, not history.

Of course historical fiction is appropriate if your intention, like that of Goldstone, is to contribute to the demonization of Israel.

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One Response to “Footnotes in historical fiction”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Another alarming aspect of this is the NYTimes Book Review decision to solicit a review and then one from a fiercely anti- Israel person. The ‘Times’ sins against Israel all the time. Today for instance there is a wholly misleading story filed by Ethan Bronner whose headline is that Israeli soldiers just happened to kill six Palestinians. One had to read deep into the story in order to understand that three of these people had murdered in cold- blood an Israeli, and that the other three were on a terror-mission on the Israel-Gaza border.